South Dakota soybean producer looks ahead as USB director

RANDY DOCKENDORF Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan
Farm Forum

TRIPP, S.D. (AP) — As he walks his soybean fields near Tripp, Marc Reiner thinks about his ancestors who toiled the same soil when it was still Dakota Territory.

“My farm has been in the family since the 1880s. I’m the fifth generation, and I’m now farming it with my dad,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate that my ancestors, including my parents and grandparents, have been able to keep the farm in operation for the next generation.”

But Reiner knows his livelihood — and those of farmers across the nation — depends on factors far beyond his own operation. He has served on the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, working to improve the industry for the Rushmore State.

Now, he’s taking his knowledge and passion to the national level.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently appointed Reiner as a United Soybean Board (USB) director. Perdue appointed seven new members and 12 returning members as directors. They were sworn into office during the annual meeting held last month in St. Louis, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reported .

After returning from the annual meeting, Reiner was excited to see the possibilities for soybean farmers.

“It was really neat to see some of the issues and questions that we worked on for our state’s farmers now played out on a national level,” he said. “Different areas of our country have different concerns. We’re also very interested to see how the different areas of the country approach production and marketing issues.”

Whereas Reiner is a new USB director, Mike Korth of Randolph, Nebraska, is returning to the board. Directors can serve three 3-year terms.

“I truly appreciate the time and expertise that these individuals have agreed to provide, and know U.S. soybean producers will be well served by these men and women,” Perdue said in a news release.

The USB is composed of 73 members representing 29 states and Eastern and Western regions. To become a member, the person must be a soybean producer and be nominated by a qualified state soybean board.

For Reiner, the timing was right for taking a national leadership position.

“I just finished my final term on the state soybean board of directors. I served as chair of the state board for three years and served with some great people,” he said.

“I had the opportunities this year to be nominated by some fellow South Dakota soybean farmers. I put together my application, and we submitted it. I was fortunate to get selected for the United Soybean Board.”

Under the USB regulations, the 73 directors work on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers to achieve maximum value for their soy checkoff investments. The checkoff program collects funds from farmers of a particular agricultural commodity — in this case, soybeans — for promotion and research of that commodity.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service holds oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.

The soybean checkoff dollars give producers the ability to help chart their industry’s future, Reiner said.

“Soybeans producers are using their own dollars,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for farmers to pool their dollars and lead the discussion on what they want to do.”

The USB directors steer clear of national politics, Reiner said.

“We discuss what we can do for research, market development and trade,” he said. “We also work on what we can do for communication and education.”

Reiner isn’t a stranger to the soybean industry and promoting it at home and abroad. He has traveled to China and Europe as part of agricultural groups. Those trips provided valuable contacts and information on biotechnology, sustainability and trade, he said.

Foreign trade represents a crucial market that could grow much larger, Reiner said.

“Nationally, we export 40 percent of our beans. The figure is even bigger for South Dakota — something like 60 percent,” he said. “If you look at the markets right now, China is the big one for exports. They’re a huge market.”

China is a rapidly-growing nation, with an estimated 1.4 billion people out of the global population of 7.5 billion. In addition, Chinese consumers are demanding more and better food.

“China raises a lot of soybeans, but all of those soybeans are for themselves,” Reiner said. “Most of their imported beans come from the United States. They use it for livestock diets — areas like pork production, poultry processing and aquaculture.”

Reiner pointed to changing Chinese nutritional needs as fueling the demand.

“They’re moving from the lower class to the middle class, and they’re improving their diet,” he said. “They want more protein. They want fish, poultry and pork. They want more animal production, and our soybean meal is going over to feed their folks.”

The U.S. also holds agreements with major trade partners such as Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea, he said.

At home, American agriculture seeks to improve the beans’ quality, Reiner said. Researchers are studying genetics, including the amino acid profile and the protein and oil levels, he said. The research also looks at fertilization and other farming practices.

Reiner has seen the benefits of research through his work with the South Dakota soybean council. The state board has committed research funds to South Dakota State University in Brookings. The researchers are working more with genetics and production practices on entire fields rather than the past use of small plots, he said.

“SDSU has been a great partner to work with, and we try to use our checkoff dollars as a tool for work in those fields,” he said.

Besides improving their commodities, American producers are looking at ways of better moving and marketing their crops, Reiner said.

“What does it cost us to take beans in the central part of the U.S. and transport them to the Gulf Coast or Pacific Northwest?” he asked. “It comes down to keeping our transportation costs low. A lot of it has to do with the rail system and our locks and dams (on waterways).”

When it comes to exports, the U.S. also sends nutritionists overseas to help nations improve their diets, Reiner said. Commodity groups aren’t the only ones marketing to foreign nations, as promotions are also made for American livestock and meat exports.

In addition, marketing efforts are targeted toward U.S. consumers, Reiner said. Exports play an important role, but producers aren’t neglecting the domestic customer, he said.

“With the checkoff, we’re working with educational efforts,” he said. “The markets are always changing. We can’t just take for granted that people are informed on what we’re doing (in agriculture) and what we offer them.”

In turn, farmers are learning the changing needs and preferences of consumers, grocery stores and other outlets, Reiner said. Consumers are looking at nutrition, taste, ease of preparation, cost and food safety.

“Those are all really important qualities to us,” he said. “We raise products that are wholesome, good tasting and reasonably priced. It’s all part of our obligation to the folks that we serve.”

But agriculture isn’t all about the bottom line, Reiner said. Producers are practicing sustainability as good stewards of the land, water and air, he said.

“We’re continuously trying to do things more efficiently,” he said. “We can be progressive by adapting new technology. We can raise more with less, thanks to the wonders of science.”

As a result, Reiner sees great potential for value-added agriculture. In turn, smaller communities and surrounding rural areas can create more jobs and income.

As USB director, Reiner also sees tremendous learning opportunities.

“I learn so much talking to the people in the field. It’s really rewarding, and I gain a deeper understanding of agriculture, particularly soybeans,” he said. “It’s really enjoyable to know I’m going to work on something that represents farmers in South Dakota and across the nation.”

And much as his ancestors handed down the family farm, Reiner wants his current work at the state and national levels to create a legacy for his descendants.

“One of the most important things to me is making sure my children, if they so choose, have the chance to operate the family farm,” he said.

“In that way, I want them to enjoy the same things that were open for me to enjoy.”